Georgia State Senator Harold V. Jones II introduced Bill 254 to the Georgia State Committee to change the first offense of marijuana possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill went to the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on Jan. 12, 2016 and will be revised and re-read to the Senate floor on a later date.

Jones, a Democratic senator from District 22, pre-filed the bill on Dec. 29, 2015. The bill is designed to remove all weight requirements and make all possession cases a misdemeanor as long as it is evident the marijuana is for personal use. The bill does not excuse people selling, trafficking or distributing marijuana.

“The bill does not legalize marijuana,” said Jones. “It is still a crime to possess it.”

In the state of Georgia, possession of one ounce or more of marijuana is currently classified as a felony. Some consequences of being charged with a felony include suspended voting rights, suspended driver’s license, losing eligibility for federal and state financial aid and food stamps and losing the ability to serve on a jury.

“By changing it from a felony to a misdemeanor, people won’t lose these particular privileges,” said Jones. “The key to stopping those kinds of events from happening is to eliminate the felony portion. There are too many rights people lose.”

Jones is particularly looking out for college students or people with professional licenses. Another consequence of a felony charge is the potential to lose a license to work, such as a nurse’s license, physicians license or attorney license.

“It would have a tremendous effect for college students,” said Jones. “It would allow people who are caught to retain their scholarships and stay in school since it would be a misdemeanor. The greatest impact would be that they would not have a felony on their record.

“Right now, employers are looking at their records, and students won’t want a felony on there,” continued Jones. “It’s like a scarlet letter forever to them, and it’s a completely different beast from a misdemeanor.”

Changing the felony to a misdemeanor would also mean a less severe sentence. A misdemeanor constitutes a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

“The bill is more in line with criminal justice reform,” said Jones. “Without a doubt, we need to change.”

Jones is expecting a lot of work and effort for the bill to pass.

“We need a lot of community action, like talking to the legislators, to see that the bill goes forth,” said Jones. “We need a hearing to try and pass the bill, which would come after the bill passes from the committee to the floor. Just like any other bill, it’s going to take effort and work, but we need it from the community.”

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